Facility Faceoff

Stadium Authority to spend up to $20 million keeping up the Jones Dome
Christopher Tritto
Sports facilities experts estimate it could cost between $5 million and $9 million to bring the Edward Jones Dome's video display boards, sound and communications systems, and playing field surface in line with other top NFL stadiums. That's on top of the $4.8 million spent this year on upgrades to luxury and club seating areas.

Keeping up the Dome is part of the St. Louis Rams' lease with the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission (CVC). The agreement requires the Dome rank among the top eight of 32 NFL stadiums by July 31, 2005. That has Rams and CVC officials looking at four initial areas for "first-tier" improvements: luxury suites, concourses and amenities; club seats, lounge and amenities; stadium and playing field lighting and sound communication systems; and the playing field. The Rams plan to present an additional list of upgrades in September, said Bob Wallace, Rams executive vice president and general counsel. Although Wallace declined to say what items might be on the list, he confirmed they would not have to be completed until July 2007 under a current proposal. The St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority has budgeted about $20 million for first-tier improvements between 2003 and 2008.

Since the Dome opened in 1995, 17 other NFL stadiums have been built or renovated, raising the bar among the league's best facilities. With negotiations under way on specific improvements to be made at the Dome, the Business Journal checked in with some of the NFL's best venues to see what's tops on and off the field.

Have a seat

Formica countertops and neutral colors are giving way to granite counters and wood paneling in the Dome's special seating areas. First-tier renovations to the Dome's luxury suites and club seating are under way and scheduled to be completed in time for the Rams' preseason opener against the Chicago Bears Aug. 12. About $4.8 million has been spent on those upgrades so far. Another $2.4 million in undefined improvements around concessions and other facilities in the concourses are budgeted for 2005.

Improvements to the "fit and finish" areas were driven by rising standards at other NFL venues, said Kent Underwood, executive director of the Sports Complex Authority.

Suites will have improved fixtures, refrigerators and ice makers, granite countertops, more wood finish, new carpet and slate floors. The pre-game dining area for spectators with club seating will include new bars, buffet lines, televisions, improved lighting and wood paneling.

"All this (original) stuff was done before we had a football team," Underwood said. "We want to make it feel more attractive and incorporate more of a Rams theme through the finishes."

Pumping up the volume

More than $1 million was invested in the Dome's sound system in the late 1990s, so major upgrades might not be necessary to meet first-tier standards, Underwood said. Still, the beat around the country at NFL stadiums is getting louder and has better quality, according to sound experts.

"The level of audio keeps getting one-upped for each facility that is built by getting louder or, more commonly, by getting higher-quality sound with wider bandwidth systems similar to what you find in a home or movie house or car," said Paul Chavez, director of systems applications for Harman Professional Systems. The Northridge, Calif.-based company has manufactured sound and speaker systems for several professional sports venues, including Ford Field in Detroit and Soldier Field in Chicago.

Chavez estimates an upgraded sound system in the Dome would cost between $300,000 and $700,000 for the equipment alone. Installation could cost twice as much as the equipment, he said.

Dave Stearns, an audio/visual consultant with Dallas-based Pelton Marsh Kinsella, works with various professional and collegiate sports venues, including the Denver Broncos' Invesco Field at Mile High. Indoor systems tend to be more expensive than those for open-air facilities, so sound improvements in the Dome could cost as much as $2.25 million, Stearns said.

Turf battle?

The Dome and the Indianapolis Colts' RCA Dome are the only two NFL stadiums that still use a traditional AstroTurf surface. All others use natural grass or modern synthetics with sand and rubber infills that provide better shock absorption, experts said.

"If they go with artificial turf, this infill is the kind they go to," said David Staines, director of marketing for Sportexe, a maker of infilled artificial surfaces based in Fonthill, Ontario. "There isn't another synthetic turf that would be considered an option."

At about $4 a square foot, an infilled 85,000-square-foot football field would cost about $340,000, Staines said.

Dalton, Ga.-based FieldTurf -- which in recent years has installed artificial infilled turf for the Atlanta Falcons' Georgia Dome, Cincinnati Bengals' Paul Brown Stadium, Detroit Lions' Ford Field and several other NFL facilities -- charges about $4.50 a square foot, said Darren Gill, marketing manager. FieldTurf would cost about $380,000 at the Edward Jones Dome.

The problem with infilled playing surfaces is that they cannot be rolled up and stored when the Dome floor would be used for NCAA games, conventions or other events. The current AstroTurf can be rolled up.

The Rams won't say yet whether they want an infilled turf. Bruce Sommer, who runs the Dome for the CVC and is the CVC's chief negotiator with the Rams, said team owners cannot call for a change to the playing field if the modification would restrict the Dome's non-football versatility.

It's possible an infilled playing field could be covered instead of rolled up, but that would bring additional costs. Van Buren, Ark.-based Rola-Trac North America manufactures a heavy-duty cover system that could be snapped into place on top of the field. A system large enough for the Dome would cost as much as $650,000, said Heidi Davis, Rola-Trac marketing director.

Video dreams

Although not part of the initial four areas for upgrades, the Dome's video display boards -- often referred to by the trademarked name Jumbotron -- scoreboards and sound systems are obvious areas for potential improvement, industry experts said.

"At the Edward Jones Dome, the display boards are about 550 square feet, while boards at newer facilities are maybe three or four times that," said Chris Williams, managing principal at Wrightson, Johnson, Haddon & Williams Inc. The Dallas-based media systems consultant designed the sound, broadcast, scoreboard and video control systems for the Dome in 1991.

Stadium and Rams officials have not determined what type of replacement display boards to buy, when to buy them or how large they should be. Larger boards could interfere with sightlines and require some modifications to seating, Underwood said.

Williams, who has consulted with new and renovated NFL stadiums in Seattle, Chicago, Green Bay, Detroit and Houston, estimated a new large-screen display for the Dome would cost about $3.5 million.

Others said the price tag could be higher. Daktronics Inc. manufactures scoreboards and light-emitting diode, or LED, display boards. The Brookings, S.D.-based company counts 23 NFL teams and facilities among its customers. It designed and built display boards for newly renovated Soldier Field in Chicago and this fall will manufacture a new 2,200-square-foot video board for the Jacksonville Jaguars' ALLTEL Stadium, which like the Dome opened in 1995.

"The trend is bigger and brighter, with greater resolution and split screening," said Mark Steinkamp, Daktronics' marketing manager for large sports venues. Football stadiums in Tampa Bay, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland and the future stadium of the Arizona Cardinals all incorporate high-definition, wide-screen technology, he said. Many are also adding fascia strips, long displays that run the length of the field or completely around the inside of the stadium.

The Jacksonville upgrade will cost about $4 million while the Arizona Cardinals' stadium, set to open in 2006, will have a $6 million system, he said.

"The Dome would have to move to a super-wide screen and add inside fascia strips along the sidelines to be among the top eight stadiums," Steinkamp said. "That's what it takes to keep up with the Joneses."

ctritto@bizjournals.